Fdd's overnight brief

May 19, 2022

In The News


Kyiv is holding out hope for a prisoner swap to bring home fighters who long held their ground in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, a final holdout before Russia finalized its capture of the city this week in a negotiated surrender. But Russian officials on Wednesday cast doubt on the possibility of an exchange. – Washington Post 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. would likely prevent U.S. investors from receiving payments on Russian debt, a decision that could push Russia toward default. – Wall Street Journal 

Air raid sirens wail daily and the steady rumble of artillery can still be heard in the distance, but Ukrainian forces this month pushed Russian troops out of the eastern city of Kharkiv and beyond striking distance. – New York Times 

Russian forces gunned down a 14-year-old boy playing soccer and two teen brothers out for a walk after they seized control of villages in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in the early weeks of the war, a new investigation reveals. – The Daily Beast 

Editorial: The United States and its partner democracies must remain vigilant regarding the fate of these fighters now that they are essentially at Mr. Putin’s mercy. He must be held accountable for his promise of decent, lawful treatment. One lesson of Mariupol is that the Russian president did, in the end, agree to evacuate both civilians and military personnel from the Azovstal plant, as he should have. He did so, however, only because armed Ukrainian resistance gave him no other choice. – Washington Post 

Marc A. Thiessen writes: For many who remember the Reagan years, those words still ring true. We have muscle memory from the Cold War. A Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that majorities of those 40-and-older support increasing military aid to Ukraine. But just 38 percent of young Republicans, who grew up in the post-Cold War era, support boosting military aid, and 52 percent are opposed. Which means the Young America’s Foundation has its work cut out reminding a new generation that, in Reagan’s words, “a violation of human rights anywhere is the business of free people everywhere.” Bring them here to the Reagan Ranch. – Washington Post 

Josh Rogin writes: Russian and Chinese leaders are surely learning from the mistakes Putin made in Ukraine, and we would be wise to reflect on our errors. The blame game, although a time-honored Washington tradition, is a dangerous distraction from that effort. – Washington Post 

Efim Marmer writes: Much has changed for the better for Ukrainian journalists since those days, but without the support of our international colleagues and their readers, everything we’ve gained could be lost. Without our newspapers, history will never know the truth about Russian atrocities. Please don’t forget about us. – Wall Street Journal 

Timothy Snyder writes: As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Had Ukraine not resisted, this would have been a dark spring for democrats around the world. If Ukraine does not win, we can expect decades of darkness. – New York Times 

Leonid Bershidsky writes: In the same way, any long-term harmonious solution to the existential conflict between an imperialist Russia and a stubbornly independent Ukraine is only possible if both countries end up as parts of a united Europe — a distant prospect today, to say the least, and one that requires a degree of Russian atonement unimaginable not just under Putin, but under almost any conceivable successor. Yet, if peace for all time is what the West seeks, this — and not merely a weakened Russia — should be its long-term objective. – Bloomberg 


Hundreds of Iranians have taken to the streets in cities across the country, protesting against the crippling political and economic situation. Unofficial reports say security forces have killed at least four people. – ABC News 

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in the White House on Wednesday to discuss the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear project and the progress made by the Islamic Republic. – Jerusalem Post 

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Tuesday said that what appears to have “temporarily paused” the nuclear deal with Iran is that “the ayatollahs’ demands are so extreme and so radical.” – Jerusalem Post 

An independent United Nations expert said Wednesday that the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran was “devastating,” describing them as illegal and urging that they be lifted. – Agence France-Presse 

Iranian rallies against a recent cut in state subsidies are unlikely to match the scope of previous waves of protest or pose a threat to the stability of the regime, a prominent Israeli expert predicted on Wednesday. – Haaretz 

Iran has between $100 billion and $120 billion trapped in foreign accounts because of US sanctions, a United Nations human rights envoy told reporters in Tehran on Wednesday. – Bloomberg 

Authorities in Tehran are attempting to break a strike by bus workers that has hampered transportation in the capital and threatens to merge with separate antigovernment protests around the country calling for the end of Iran’s clerical regime amid a worsening economic situation. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Michael Rubin writes: Should Iranians control their own destiny, the nuclear impasse will fade away — first because it is the ideology of the regime that threatens and second because, economically and from an energy standpoint, there is no logical reason for Iran to invest in nuclear energy. Let us hope that, as Iran erupts, Biden is farsighted enough to see the big picture and not repeat Obama’s mistakes. – Washington Examiner 


President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its NATO bid without returning “terrorists”, and Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Turkey to convince it to back their membership in the alliance. – Reuters 

At the heart of Turkey’s threat to stop NATO’s Nordic expansion is a clash of viewpoints over Kurdish political groups. Sweden, which along with Finland is seeking entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has been one of Europe’s most willing recipients of migrants fleeing conflict, including Kurds. Turkey opposes Kurdish demands for statehood and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has called Sweden a “nesting ground for terrorist organizations.” Since NATO admits new members only by unanimous consent, his views can’t easily be ignored. – Bloomberg 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objection to NATO’s acceptance of Sweden and Finland as full allies has raised the geopolitical stakes of simmering disputes between Turkey and NATO’s U.S. and European members at a moment of growing Western dependence on Turkish security assistance. – Washington Examiner 

Joe Lieberman and Mark D. Wallace write: Turkey is a member of NATO, but under Mr. Erdogan it no longer subscribes to the values that underpin this great alliance. Article 13 of the NATO charter provides a mechanism for member states to withdraw. Perhaps it is time to amend Article 13 to establish a procedure for the expulsion of a member nation that meets neither the principled nor the practical requirements for membership. – Wall Street Journal  

Yörük Işık writes: Action must also be taken to re-establish global food security. Russia is stealing Ukrainian commodities on an industrial scale and selling them; profits from these illegitimate sales extend the war. Great amounts of stolen commodities end up in Turkey, some even carried inexplicably by the Syrian government shipping company SYRIAMAR. Buyers, including companies in Turkey, are wrong to get involved in this illegal trade. Turkey should instead focus on rebuilding Ukraine. While Russia continues to blockade Ukraine’s most essential ports at Odesa and Chornomorsk, its ships should be denied commercial access to the Turkish Straits. – Middle East Institute 


Two Iron Dome interceptors were fired by the Israeli military after a misidentification of a possible drone infiltration from Lebanon. The launching of the interceptors caused incoming rocket sirens to be activated in several communities along Israel’s border with Lebanon on Thursday morning. – Jerusalem Post 

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement is racist and antisemitic, British Home Secretary Priti Patel told a gathering of Conservative Friends of Israel. – Jerusalem Post  

In a signal to Iran, the US Air Force will refuel Israel Air Force fighter jets during a massive aerial drill in the coming weeks that will simulate an Israeli strike against Iran. The Israeli drill – dubbed “Chariots of Fire” – will simulate striking targets far from Israel’s borders with a large number of planes while simultaneously acquiring new targets on various fronts in real time. It will be the largest military drill in Israel’s history. – Jerusalem Post 

Israel Police, Shin Bet, IDF and Border Police found a “pirate gate” that was being run by an Israeli along the separation fence for the smuggling of weapons, goods and stolen vehicles between Israel and the West Bank. – Jerusalem Post 

Military Police will not open an investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin last week, despite suspicions it may have been an Israeli soldier that shot her, according to a report Thursday. – Times of Israel 

Overnight, IDF and Israeli security forces conducted counterterrorism activities in a number of locations in Judea and Samaria, including the towns of al-Khader, Tel, Deir Istiya, Zububa, and Al Yamun, to apprehend individuals suspected of terror activity. – Arutz Sheva 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and a handful of progressive Democrats introduced a resolution on Monday referring to Palestinian Arabs as the “indigenous inhabitants” of Israel and endorsing Palestinian right of return, one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli-Palestinian relations. – Jewish Insider

Abdelhalim Abdelrahman writes: The Fatah-Hamas rivalry has derailed a proper investigation into Shireen’s tragic killing. Instead, both Fatah and Hamas officials will use this somber moment for their political gain at the expense of the truth. – Times of Israel 


The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority in elections but said no single group had taken it, in his first televised speech since Sunday’s election. – Reuters 

The head of Lebanon’s powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah called Wednesday on parliamentary factions to cooperate, following elections that saw no bloc achieve a majority and the representation of independent lawmakers rise. – Agence France-Presse

Gulf States

For Saudi Arabia, losses for Iran’s allies in a Lebanese general election mark a rare piece of good news from a country where Tehran has long been ascendant, and could play to Riyadh’s advantage in a regional tussle for influence. – Reuters 

A whirlwind trip by Vice President Kamala Harris to the United Arab Emirates to pay respects following the death of its ruler doubled as an opportunity to reset a relationship with an important regional ally. – Washington Examiner 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Anti-Israel activism is a cover for the drug trade in Syria, for the looting of Lebanon, and for other activities as well. Groups like the Houthis in Yemen have official slogans against Israel and Jews, part of an obsessive antisemitic worldview in the region that has for decades used hatred of Jews as a way to dominate. Iraq’s parliament is a classic example of this, spending time on a bill about Israel while the country can’t even agree on basic things like a president and prime minister. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

One of Libya’s rival prime ministers said Wednesday he would seat his government in the central city of Sirte, after clashes forced him to abort his attempt the previous day to bring his Cabinet to the Libyan capital of Tripoli. – Associated Press 

Jordan’s King Abdullah II stated that Iran and its proxies were filling a vacuum left by Russia in southern Syria, warning that this could lead to issues along Jordan’s borders, during an interview on Wednesday at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. – Jerusalem Post 

Eric R. Mandel writes: America has a lot on its plate, and the Middle East has fallen a few rungs lower on the ladder of U.S. priorities. With runaway inflation, an unpredictable Russian war in Ukraine, and the pending pivot toward China, Biden’s trip to the Middle East boils down to this: Be modest in your goals. Support your allies. Remind the world that America still cares about the region’s affairs and prosperity, and wants to remain a partner that helps to steer the region toward greater stability for everyone’s benefit. – The Hill 

Catherine Cleveland writes: What is vital to remember is that this urgent issue will likely have regional ramifications far beyond any conclusion to the invasion of Ukraine. […]Ultimately, polling numbers suggest that the resulting frustration is likely to have destabilizing impacts back home if governments ultimately prove unable to feed their people. With significant support already for protest within more economically vulnerable countries, continuing to address and ameliorate economic hardship will be especially vital for these countries in the months ahead. – Washington Institute 

Przemysław Osiewicz writes: All in all, President Macron and his administration seem poised to continue their current policy toward the MENA region, and only unforeseen developments are likely to change the goals set and measures taken. At the same time, France will invest its time and energy into strengthening the EU’s “neighborhood policy” toward the MENA countries. The Union for the Mediterranean, in which France has flexed its leadership muscles, will remain the main forum for cooperation. – Middle East Institute 

Korean Peninsula

North Korea, battling its first major Covid-19 outbreak, has reached out for help to its closest ally, China, while ignoring offers of vaccines from South Korea. – Wall Street Journal 

As President Biden makes his first presidential trip to South Korea and Japan in the next week, he faces shifting dynamics in Northeast Asia that pose steep challenges to U.S. efforts to shore up alliances to counter China’s rise. A key challenge is North Korea’s thawing relationships with China and Russia, aimed at reducing U.S. influence in the region. – Washington Post 

Any major North Korea weapons test over the next five days could overshadow U.S. President Joe Biden’s broader trip focus on bolstering Asian allies against China, analysts say. – Reuters 

Andrew Yeo writes: The Indo-Pacific strategy is a grand strategy for the long haul. Given resource constraints and the reality of a China-Russia axis, the U.S. will need greater support from allies and partners to advance a free and open order. By stopping first in Seoul, Biden is recognizing that the Yoon government’s promise to play a larger global role is a major step in that direction. – The Hill 

Ellen Kim and Victor Cha write: Yoon’s plans for more cooperation on missile defense with the United States to counter North Korea’s increased testing and development will violate, in China’s mind, Moon’s agreement in 2017 not to expand missile defense cooperation with the United States and Japan. How the allies come out on this issue will be an important test of Yoon’s commitment to stand stronger against China when it comes to South Korea’s national defense needs. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Patrick M. Cronin writes: IPEF is a promise to respond to the strategic field of the 21st century economy defined by the 4th industrial revolution. President Yoon had a special opportunity to be the first participant in this plan. Now is the time to show the world that Korea is one of the world’s leading countries in every way. President Yun can enjoy the results for five years, and no other ally will support it more than President Biden. – Hudson Institute 


A Chinese American and four Chinese intelligence officers have been indicted on charges related to espionage and transnational repression, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn this week. – Washington Post 

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday that he discussed the possibility of North Korean nuclear or missile tests with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi during a call focused on regional security issues and nonproliferation. – Reuters 

The United Nations’ human rights chief is planning to proceed with a landmark trip to China next week, people familiar with the matter said, in a highly scrutinized visit that will include a stop in the far west region of Xinjiang. – Bloomberg 

Olivia Enos writes: Many in Europe say that they are just waking up to the threat posed by China. But if Europe is just waking up, it is still half-asleep. Some from Europe refer to Russia as the visible threat and China as the invisible one. But China’s threat to its people and to human decency can hardly be categorized as invisible. Those claiming the threat from China is invisible, are failing to open their eyes to the evidence laid bare before them. And with their eyes closed, the threat posed to European security, values, economy, and more will surely be at their doorstep sooner than they realize. Maybe it has already arrived. – Heritage Foundation 

South Asia

India is looking to domestic firms and eastern European nations for military gear and ammunition, as the world’s biggest buyer of Russian arms seeks alternative suppliers at a time when Moscow is fighting a war with Ukraine and facing sanctions. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met for the first time Wednesday and both said they want to strengthen ties between the two countries. – Associated Press 

The biggest factor that led to the collapse of the Afghan military in August last year was the U.S. decision to withdraw forces and contractors from Afghanistan through an agreement with the Taliban signed by the Trump administration and executed by the Biden administration, a U.S. watchdog report concluded. – Reuters 


President Biden heads to Asia this week for the first time since taking office, as he tries to refocus attention on a top foreign-policy priority of countering China—a task that has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Wednesday said his country’s ties with China will expand and “shift to a higher gear” when he takes power, signalling intent to advance outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-Beijing agenda. – Reuters 

Japan will double fiscal aid for Ukraine to $600 million in a coordinated move with the World Bank to back the country’s near-term fiscal necessities damaged by Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Thursday. – Reuters 

China’s top diplomat again warned the US over its increased support for Taiwan, showing the island democracy remains a major sticking point between the world’s biggest economies as Beijing sent more military aircraft toward the island. – Bloomberg 

Satyajit Das writes: Given the two nations’ complementary economies, it would be wise for Australia to attempt a modus vivendi with China to mend the commercial relationship. Beyond trade, co-operation is essential for dealing with regional and global issues such as climate change. For British statesman Lord Palmerston, countries had no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, just permanent interests. For the moment, Australia’s economic wellbeing remains dependent on China. – Financial Times 


Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on Wednesday, a move that, if approved, would fundamentally transform the security landscape of Northern Europe and give the alliance a valuable edge against Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal 

The European Union released a $317 billion plan aimed at ending its dependence on Russian energy within five years, testing the bloc’s political will to overhaul its energy policy and infrastructure in response to the invasion of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal  

The world economy is heading into a potentially grim period as rising costs, shortages of food and other commodities and Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine threaten to slow economic growth and bring about a painful global slump. – New York Times 

President Biden formally endorsed Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO on Wednesday, while also issuing a carefully-worded warning to Russia that the U.S. would help defend the countries in the interim before they become members of the alliance covered by its commitment that “an attack on one is as attack on all.” – New York Times 

Europe’s effort to stand up to Russia and Vladimir V. Putin, its president, is being slowed by two strongmen leaders insisting on the priority of their national interests and playing to domestic audiences. – New York Times 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended his country’s decision to supply Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia, saying this “does not constitute an escalation.” – Associated Press 

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved veteran diplomat Bridget Brink on Wednesday to be ambassador to Ukraine, filling a critical post that has been vacant for three years as Washington works to increase support for the government in Kyiv. – Reuters 

Finland and Sweden will buy portable firearms and anti-tank weapons together, Finland’s defence ministry said on Wednesday, as the two Nordic country’s handed in their applications to join the Western military alliance NATO. – Reuters 

Russia said on Wednesday it was expelling a total of 85 embassy staff from France, Spain and Italy in response to similar moves by those countries, highlighting the damage to relations with leading European Union members since it launched its war on Ukraine. – Reuters 

Germany’s three governing parties plan to strip former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he maintained and defended his long-standing ties with Russia despite the war in Ukraine. – Associated Press 

Sweden must cut its ties with a Syrian Kurdish militia or Turkey will continue to block its application to Nato, Ankara’s ambassador to Stockholm has warned amid a deepening crisis over the Scandinavian country’s bid to join the transatlantic defence alliance. – Financial Times 

National security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday warned the U.S. would “not tolerate any aggression” toward Sweden and Finland as the Nordic countries prepare to join the security alliance NATO. – The Hill 

If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the alliance would be able to recalibrate its force posture in the Baltic Sea to a level capable of evening out the regional deterrence balance with Russia, according to Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist. – Defense News 

Elaine McCusker writes: One can debate US foreign policy priorities laid next to domestic challenges, the importance of supporting Ukraine, the estimated costs of doing so, and the need to find offsets from less immediate and responsive federal priorities as part of fundamental stewardship duties, but it is tough to find a lack of transparency, oversight, or diffusion of stated purpose in the current Ukraine supplemental. – American Enterprise Institute 

Pierre Morcos writes: Ukraine’s road to the European Union will require both audacity and patience. EU countries will need to take bold decisions to send a strong political signal to Kyiv while keeping the long view in mind, as the accession process will demand challenging reforms on both sides. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 

Latin America

Jill Biden is embarking on a high-stakes, six-day diplomatic tour of three Latin American countries, as part of a flurry of activity that marks her most prominent time as first lady on a global stage. – Washington Post 

Brazil’s democracy can support “free and fair elections” in October despite Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s statements against the country’s electoral body, said Elizabeth Bagley, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to be ambassador in Brasilia, on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Cuba’s vice foreign minister denounced the Biden administration’s partial rollback of Trump-era restrictions on remittances and travel to the island, calling U.S. policy toward the island one of continued “hostility” and “economic blockade.” – Reuters 

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Wednesday the country hopes to receive a response from the United States later in the day or by Thursday regarding Mexico’s proposal for all countries in the region to attend the Summit of the Americas. – Reuters 

Michael Stott writes: Given the two nations’ complementary economies, it would be wise for Australia to attempt a modus vivendi with China to mend the commercial relationship. Beyond trade, co-operation is essential for dealing with regional and global issues such as climate change. For British statesman Lord Palmerston, countries had no eternal allies or perpetual enemies, just permanent interests. For the moment, Australia’s economic wellbeing remains dependent on China. – Financial Times 


Senior cyber coordinators from NATO held their first-ever meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the cyber threat landscape following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. – The Hill 

Russia is known for its potent cyber-warfare capabilities. So it is no surprise that Moscow launched cyberattacks against Ukrainian targets in the lead up to its invasion in late February. Russian hackers went after a variety of Ukrainian targets in the private and public sectors, but one cyber weapon aimed at a specific military target spilled over and affected tens of thousands of devices outside Ukraine. – Business Insider 

The U.S. government recovered more than $15 million in proceeds from a global advertising scheme that cost businesses in the U.S. and abroad $29 million between December 2015 and October 2018. – CyberScoop 


The U.S. Navy doesn’t want to promise to buy too many ships in the next five years, in case it can’t follow through due to budget or supply chain constraints. But its unwillingness to guarantee work to shipbuilders will cost the sea service millions of dollars in the long run, a top official told Defense News. – Defense News 

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed a Defense Department official who will be tasked with overseeing the logistics of the sprawling, multifaceted effort to deliver military equipment to Ukraine, as it defends itself against a Russian invasion. – Defense News 

The Army’s decision to reduce Abrams tank production in fiscal 2023 to fund new technologies was one of its tougher choices, the Army’s acquisition chief said on Capitol Hill this week. – Defense News 

The Pentagon’s chief information officer this week said he’s committed to an end-of-year target to award a critical cloud-computing deal, after failing to meet an April deadline that he admitted was overly ambitious. – Defense News 

A Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser the Navy wants to decommission next year is nearly finished with a modernization overhaul that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, a service official told lawmakers today. – USNI News